The Identity of an Exile

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The Identity of an Exile


Peter Hubbard


September 4, 2022


I Peter 2:9-12


If you’re not already there, turn to 1 Peter 2, whether online or here.

Ruth Van Reken experienced an identity crisis when she was 13 years old. She said, “I didn’t know what the other 13-year-olds knew.” She later learned she was what has come to be known as a “third culture kid.” She defines this as a child who has spent a significant time of her developmental years in a different culture from her parents’ passport culture. So, for Ruth, her father was born in Iran (which at the time was Persia); her mother, Chicago; her sister, Portugal; she, Nigeria; and then four other siblings born in Nigeria. Then when they were 13, they moved to the States — remember, she was born and grew up in Nigeria — comes to the States, and that’s when she had a bit of an identity crisis. “Why don’t I know what these other 13-year-olds know?” And then when they ask questions like, “Where are you from?” she doesn’t know how to answer. She feels very much Nigerian. She loved her childhood in Nigeria, but yet she wasn’t fully Nigerian when she was in Nigeria. And then she comes to the States, and this is supposed to be home. It’s where her mother grew up. But she doesn’t feel totally here as well.

If you’ve grown up most of your life in one area, the question, “Where are you from?” is a pretty easy question to answer. But for third culture kids, it can be a bit more confusing. Who are third culture kids? Usually missionary kids, children of diplomats, military brats can be third culture kids, and often anyone who doesn’t grow up as part of a majority culture. So, minorities, biracial, adopted, immigrants, refugees can all experience different aspects of these same questions, like, “Where do I belong? Who am I? How do I fit in?”

Ruth explains that when third culture kids feel confused, they typically respond one of three ways. She calls the first way “the chameleon.” You are who you think you need to be in order to fit in. The chameleon doesn’t know who she is, but she knows who she doesn’t want to be. She doesn’t want to be rejected. She doesn’t want to be weird. So, she figures the best way is to conform.

Second typical response for those feeling confused is “the screamer.” The screamer reacts to who he thinks others want him to be. And this, as Ruth explains, is not so much an identity as an anti-identity.

Third is the wallflower. She doesn’t feel safe to move forward. So, she’s waiting, feeling a bit frozen, tentative, unsettled, yet immobile. Who am I? Where do I belong? What do I do?

And as we’ve been learning in our study of 1 Peter, the recipients of this letter living in an area we call, a country we call Turkey today, are experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. We feel like we’re from here and sort of fit in, but we don’t fit in. Who are we? Where do we belong? And you get a glimpse of this from the first verse on. 1 Peter 1:1. If you remember many weeks ago, Peter was writing to those who are elect exiles. And that is an intriguing description, isn’t it? Am I elect? Or am I an exile? Am I chosen or banished? Graced or displaced? Native or foreigner? Insider or outsider? And the best way to answer this question, these questions, is to look to Jesus.

If you remember two weeks ago when we were in 1 Peter 2:4,

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious.”

So, when we are in Jesus, our identity is inseparably linked to his, the rejected, chosen one. The one who was rejected in the sight of men, but chosen and precious in the sight of God.

This past February, when some of us were in Jerusalem at the Holocaust Museum, I watched a video recording of a man who was describing his own execution. He, along with many others, were lined up on the edge of a pit. And their backs were to the Nazi soldiers. And at the signal they heard gunshots ring out. They fell into the pit. But when he, 16 years old, fell into the pit, he realized he had fallen slightly early and hadn’t been shot. He stayed still. Realizing his life depended on it and waited hours. Others were executed. But when it was safe, he crawled out. And now, decades later, he’s describing what it was like to be rejected, and yet, in some ways, chosen.

And of course, I’m thinking of another young Jewish man who was rejected, executed, and didn’t fake his death. He actually was dead in a grave for three days and then rose again because the rejected One is the chosen One who is precious in the sight of God. And no one, no matter how rejected by the world, but chosen by God, will remain in the grave because of Jesus. And that reality shapes our identity. That is who we become when we believe in Jesus.

In 1 Peter 2:9-12, Peter summarizes everything he has been saying, the first little paragraph, and sets up in the second little paragraph for everything he is going to be saying. And in these two short paragraphs, he answers four questions that every exile, not just third culture kids, but every exile asks at some point or another. Who were we? Who are we? Where do we belong? What do we do? And let’s walk quickly through those questions that Peter answers, and then we’ll step back and ask what difference this makes for us today.

Number one, who were we? We can’t really know who we are if we don’t really know who we were. And so, embedded in this description of who we are, are descriptions of who we were. The first clue is in verse nine,

“who called you out of darkness”

We, outside of Jesus, were characterized by and lived in darkness. We were darkness dwellers. Ephesians 5 describes this even more vividly. Ephesians 5:8, Paul says, “For at one time [notice it says] you were darkness,” not just “you lived in darkness,” as if you could explain away all your issues onto your family, or my messed up church, or the people who harmed me, which are all very real and help describe who we are today. Good or bad. But Paul says it’s deeper than that. The darkness isn’t just out there. It’s in here. Even the way we interpret and respond to others is characterized — you were darkness. You could not see clearly. You misinterpreted things that could have been taken one way and were taken another. You lived in, were characterized by darkness. You couldn’t see what is most beautiful, most true. And he goes on to explain that.

“But at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light, (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true).”

You see, as darkness, we couldn’t see what was good or right or true. We were like, to use the analogy Peter used a little earlier in this chapter, we were like infants who were shoving things in our mouths, thinking they would satisfy, when actually they’re going to poison or choke us. You realize that? You know, as parents of young children, you feel like you have a full-time job of trying to keep your infant from committing suicide. “Get that out of your mouth!”

That’s the picture of us in darkness where we’re putting things in our mouths, we’re feeding on things, we’re building our lives on things. That’s 1 Peter 2:1-8. And yet when we come to Christ, we become newborn infants who long not for poison or sharp objects, but “for pure spiritual milk.” We get a new appetite, a new taste for what is true, what is good, what is right. We long for pure, spiritual milk. In the past, when we lived in darkness, “we were like builders” who are trying to build a solid structure in the darkness. And we’re cobbling together scraps and remnants and sand and building and then wondering why every storm wipes it away. Meanwhile, we ignore the cornerstone, that which is stable and eternal. We reject.

“Rejected by men, chosen and precious by God”

When we are in darkness, we can’t see the difference. Not only were we darkness, but we were not a people. Verse 10,

“Once you were not a people”

Second part of verse 10,

“Once you had not received mercy”

Now these two references to Hosea, a prophet in the 8th century B.C. who was commanded by God to marry Gomer, a prostitute. She had three children. The last two [were] a daughter named Lo Ruchamah, which means, terribly, no mercy, without compassion, unloved, and then had a son named Lo Ammi, which means not my people. So, it’s even stronger. Not just unloved but disowned.

And what Peter is saying, outside of Jesus, these are your names. You are the “unmercied,” the disowned, the people who have no claim on the promises of God. If you died right now, outside of Jesus, you can’t stand before God and say, “I deserve the promises. I deserve life forever.” You have no claim. You are (Ephesians 2) “children of wrath,” bearing the weight of your own sin justly. That’s who we were, apart from Jesus.

Praise God, the story doesn’t end there. It’s no wonder human beings are so insecure, right? No wonder we go through identity crises and try to grab anything we can hold that tells us who we are, who we think we are. This is who we were. Who are we? And in these verses Peter expresses what is the most loaded list of identity markers in the New Testament. It’s as if he is saying, “Hey, guys, I know all day long you are being bombarded by lies from within and from without, telling you who you are. So, let me for a few moments bombard you with truth. Brace yourself. This is who you are in Jesus”.

Verse 9,

“But you are a chosen race”

An elect “genos,” that is, those who have common lineage. We are a new race in Jesus. Whether you are from Nigeria, or Chicago, or Iran, you — if you are in Jesus — are a new race, a royal priesthood. Jesus, our High Priest has made the final sacrifice for sin. And so, we are set apart both as living sacrifices and holy priests, royal priests who — just to give you a sampling of what we do — Hebrews 13:15, we “offer up sacrifices of praise” and Romans 15:16, every time we pray for the lost, live the gospel, share the gospel. We are acting out what Paul calls in Romans 15:16 a “priestly service of the gospel of God.” We’re acting as royal priests for the world. A royal priesthood.

Third, we are a holy nation. A holy ethnicity. Set apart to God. We are a people for his own possession. And this is mind blowingly good news for those whose names were “disowned” and “unloved.” That we would be made his own. The loved ones. By the way, all these descriptions come from Exodus 19, Isaiah 43, like the stream of promises that Peter is describing. This is not something he made up in the moment. He is saying that when you are in Jesus, the true Jew, you are wrapped up in all the promises God has been giving Israel. Eternally. Thomas Schreiner describes this.

“The church does not replace Israel, but it does fulfill the promises made to Israel; and all those, Jews and Gentiles, who belong to the restored Israel are part of the new people of God.”

Peter’s not done. Verse 10, you are

“God’s people”

You have

“received mercy”

Verse 11, he calls us


Whatever has characterized you in the past, what dominates your identity today is, you are tattooed, wrapped up in, sung over, dominated by love. A love like no other love. When we repent and believe in Jesus, we are saying, “God, I don’t want these fake identities that used to so dominate me. I want to be who you tell me I am. With all the privileges and opportunities that go with that. This is who we are.

Number three, where do we belong? Now, Peter doesn’t fully answer this question. But he does point us in a particular direction. You’ll see in verse 11 when he says,

“I urge you as sojourners”

that word means resident aliens, as we’ve seen, those who are not home yet,

“and exiles”

someone who is passing through, not a permanent resident. And we have to be careful not to try to make these words mean more than what Peter intends. This passage is not saying that it’s un-Christian to have a passport, or a Christian cannot be a citizen of a particular country. We are in a different sense, as we’ll see Lord willing, when we get to 2 Peter 3:13. We are the true citizens of earth. 2 Peter 3:13,

“We are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells”

So, we will possess all the new and improved earth. But until that time, we may use our citizenship as Paul, for example, used his Roman citizenship quite emphatically, at times (check out Acts 22). But it was always heading in a particular direction and wasn’t his ultimate identity. As Philippians 3:20 makes clear, today our citizenship is defined by not this world’s system and its power structures, but heaven’s. That’s where we belong.

What do we do? What do we do? Let me summarize three things Peter tells us here. Number one, he says, we proclaim God’s excellencies. Verse 9, second half,

“that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Secondly, we wage war on sinful passions. Verse 11,

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.”

And third, we live honorably and generously. Verse 12,

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so [that] when they speak against you as evildoers…”

Pause there for a second. You see how Peter assumes that if you follow Jesus, they will at some point speak evil against you as if you are trying to do bad things from their perspective, as if you’re an evildoer. But when they do that, which they will do, the goal is

“that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation”

Now, what is that “day of visitation?” The day of visitation in the Old Testament could be either a day of blessing when God moves near to bless or a day of judgment when he moves near to judge, depending on the context. Here, there are no articles used. It makes us wonder if Peter is purposely vague. You could translate this “a day of visitation.” If that is so, then he is calling us to keep our conduct among the Gentiles honorable so that when there are both micro days of visitation or ultimately at the macro day of visitation.

Those who don’t know Jesus will have gospel memories of Christians they have lived among. What do I mean by that? Well, you can imagine lost people who just don’t understand you because you’re so weird, thinking, “Wait, I remember how kind he was, like when the rest of us just wanted whatever we could get. He was always thinking of the team. What would be best for everyone?”

Or, “On Friday night when we went out and got wasted, he would never participate in that. But we knew if we needed to call someone who would get us home safely, he would be there. He would love and care for us.”

Or, “She had such strong political convictions. She was wack on so many things, we would make fun of her. A Christian at work. But she always responded with respect. She always engaged us in ways that were clear, but kind. She wouldn’t move on her convictions, but she brought a different tone to the political debate.”

Or, “I never understood, when the rest of us were out for more money at almost any cost, she wanted to do the right thing, even if it meant our company didn’t make as much money that year.”

This is what we mean by little glimpses of the gospel in the day to day. And I think that’s what Peter is getting at. Right now, that’s culminating one day.

Let’s bring this together and see if we can answer the question, what difference does this make for us today? Number one. We don’t fabricate our identity. We receive one as a gift. As our culture moves more and more frantically away from any remnants of a Christian worldview, you will notice that more and more vital realities are cast aside. Let me just give you one example.

The soul. More and more atheists today believe that there is no “real you.” There’s a thing called Peter up here right now. But Peter, the thing we call Peter is merely a clothed sack of chemical reactions. It’s a thing we call a human right now. But Peter’s going to get old and die. And then that collision of chemical reactions is gone. There’s nothing abiding. There’s no soul. So, there’s no real you. Atheist Sam Harris says,

“Self is an illusion”

Your sense of self is a trick your brain is playing on you just to keep you alive — which I’m not sure why you want to be kept alive if you’re not anything — but it’s a different question. So, there is no real you, but everyone knows that you can’t live that way. What you’re watching happening — are you seeing this in our culture now — is the more we move away from any sense of soul in the presence of a Creator, the Christian worldview. The more the more we jettison that, the more fanatical we become about finding your identity. If you’re not given one, you have to make up one because nobody can live without one. Which should point us to some kind of conclusion, but it does not seem to be happening today.

And so, we’re watching two things happening at the same time — a denial of identity and a frantic seeking and searching and fabricating of an identity. And there are some rules. You just can’t find who you are on your own without following these rules. First of all, no one can tell you who you are. Secondly, you cobble together feelings, attractions, hurts, experiences. And you think you’re creating it on your own, but it’s dominated by cultural influences. And then, when you come out with this identity that you’ve fabricated, even though no one’s allowed to have any input in telling you who you are, everyone must affirm immediately who you concluded yourself to be. Do you not know the rules?

And believe me, I’m not mocking this at all. This is serious stuff. And if there is no God, and if there is no soul, and if you have to fabricate who you are, it makes perfect sense. Because if I create my own identity, and you look at me and you say that’s not true. If there is no intrinsic, permanent, transcendental sense of identity, then the only thing motivating you to say that what I concluded myself to be is not true, is you must hate me. And you must want me not to exist, because I just told you who I am and that’s my only basis for existing. You don’t realize how life dependent these ideas are. Because if you have to fabricate your own identity, and someone rejects your conclusion of who you are, they are killing you. Because you like a work of art just created who you are. And when you came out with that, they questioned it. And what we’re seeing is a collision of worldviews and views of identity. And it raises huge questions that we don’t have time to explore today. We do at other times. But if you’re creating your own identity, who exactly is creating?

But God is promising us something far better. Yes, it’s true. We all have secondary identities. We’re from somewhere. We love certain things — male, female, and a kaleidoscope of cultural differences — which is beautiful in the sight of God. But what Peter is saying at the core, if you are in Jesus, you are not primarily an American. You’re not primarily who you or culture has created you to be. Your permanent primary identity is a child of God, the one who has been made in the image of God and remade through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. That is our permanent, secure, eternal identity.

And brothers and sisters, if we don’t know and believe this, we who claim to be followers of Jesus, will be insecure. And we will be swept along with every cultural trend, just like everyone else for fear of being different. When what the world desperately needs is for us to be different on what matters. Do you understand the difference? Secondary identity, you’re going to notice it’s a beautiful thing. You go around the world, and you’ll see Christians who look just like the culture they live in because God makes clear the clothes I wear, the car I drive, the house I live in — none of that is my primary identity. So, I can go to a different culture and just enjoy those cultural distinctives. And those don’t define me at the core of who I am. We don’t fabricate our identity. We are gifts, not gods.

Second, we are neither “chameleons” nor “screamers.” Followers of Jesus understand some of the questions that third culture kids ask, some of those feelings of rage and confusion. Why don’t I fully fit in? I hate being viewed as weird. I’m not going to fully develop this today because next week we’re going to come back and talk about the fact that in some ways, we as Christians submit to the culture we live in, and in some ways we subvert. And knowing the time to submit and subvert is key to flourishing in the kingdom of God. I’ll just plant that seed now, and we’ll talk about that more next week. But one of the ways we know that we will be doing some subversion is when Peter says to “abstain from the passions of the [flesh], which wage war against your soul”

“the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

Almost every word is controversial in our culture.

First of all, that passions shouldn’t be just all, all of them shouldn’t just be embraced and become definitional. That’s huge in our culture. That those passions of the flesh wage war against the soul. That you, we, all of us, all humanity, has an eternal, infinitely valuable soul, that you are someone that is more than a compilation of chemicals in clothes. That is hugely controversial and will feel like war, Peter is saying.

And so we realize, as Jesus said in Mark 8:36,

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

People matter, which does so many things to us. It fills our hearts with compassion, humility. Who am I? The disowned the “unmercied,” that I should be shown mercy. I want everyone to experience this that I have experienced. And it raises the elevation, the significance of each person.

But also, we are unwilling, as Jesus said, to sell our souls for temporary pleasure or power or prosperity. But we’re also not monks. Look at verse 12. Peter calls us to live honorably and generously. Like Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 29:7, seeking the welfare of the city we live in,

“that they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” [1 Peter 2:12]

For people to see good deeds, what does that imply? You have to be visible, right? We’re not cloistering. We’re not running and hiding, building high walls to protect ourselves from the enemy. Because you realize the enemy is where? If these “passions of the flesh are waging war against the soul”, you can build really high walls and still have a major problem. Because you realize the problem is also in here. We are willing to live humbly, in proximity so that there is visibility, that when we live out the goodness and kindness of Jesus in this world, people will have a picture of the heart of God through Christ.

And third, we live to proclaim his excellencies. Notice how it’s not enough just to say, “Well, I don’t really talk about the gospel. I just want to live it.” Well, he’s called you out of darkness that you may proclaim the excellencies. And that takes some words.

Now some people here question God’s intention. Why does he want us proclaiming his excellencies? If I wanted that, people would think I’m a narcissist, right? And they would be right. So, why is it right for God? Well, when we ask questions like that, which is a good question, but what we’re doing is, we’re revealing our ignorance of God. Because for God to want his creation to stop feeding on what will poison or choke them, and to see and savor what is truly beautiful and eternal and enduring, is the most loving thing he could possibly do. For him to call attention on his beauty is for him to love us in a way that we can’t even imagine when we’re in darkness. It’s the kindest thing he can do. And it’s the most freeing thing we can experience.

Let me illustrate this in a hard way. This past week, Karen, my wife … And if you’re visiting my wife has been diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, which is that very rare, aggressive cancer. She had her latest scan on Wednesday, and we’re driving to that scan. For those of you who know my wife, in the past she has had panic attacks, battled depression. And so, for her to be facing something like this and on the way to the scan — this is only God — we are worshiping God with this brand-new song called “Hallelujah Anyway.” It’s a bit lively. It is so freeing to know whether we’re about to hear good news or bad news, and when the room is spinning, and you’re not sure which way is up… “You know, God, you’ve told me what to do. We can do this, by your grace, ‘that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who call you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’” And that’s what happened. We went to the scan. We met with — so kind, two oncologists willing to give the results hours later, which never happens. But it was not good news. The cancer is back, and it has spread. And the options they give are bad and badder. Which one of these do you want?

Just so you know, God has given us several friends with medical understanding, who love us really well, who look at all the various options — traditional and non — and just say, “Okay, let’s pray for wisdom.” We are so thankful. We are really well cared for. And Karen wants me to be sure to communicate to you how much we are grateful for all your prayers, because there is no human explanation for the peace and the joy that fills our hearts. None. We have had just unbelievable times of praise and prayer, encouragement. We’re so thankful.

But we are praying. What’s next? And we’re not we’re not sure right now, and we know the Lord will lead us. But as we’re seeking his wisdom, isn’t it wonderful to know, okay, God, the room is spinning, but I know what you’ve called me to do today, “that you may proclaim the excellencies.” In other words, this new stage, this new part of the journey that we didn’t choose, but you have called us to, is going to enable us to proclaim your perfections. That’s what the word “excellencies” means — proclaim your perfections — in ways that we would not have been able to do otherwise. And for that, we give thanks. Even if we don’t have all the answers. Even if we’re not sure what’s next. We give you glory for that.

Let’s pray. Father, thank you for this passage. It has been an anchor to my soul. Thank you for calling us out of the darkness, stumbling along, feasting on things that only intensify my thirst. Shoving things down my throat that only harm. And yet you turned on the lights, Lord, and you transformed the taste buds, and you have truly allowed us to taste that you are good. And so, we want to proclaim your excellencies together. We were in darkness. We were not a people. We were not mercied. But now we are your people.

So, Father, even as I pray, I’m thinking of many people in our church who are facing hard things — sickness and pain, loss, illness, loneliness, confusion, doubt, depression. And as we were praying last night in prayer meeting that your Spirit would move among us today through your Word, and your Spirit would bear witness with our spirits that we are yours. I pray that for some who came in this room so defined by past hurts, so defined by passions, cravings, cultural influences, desires, and dreams that may be from you or not.

And, Lord, you are speaking to us right now. You have spoken to us through your Word. And we pray your Spirit would continue to press those things in such a way that we, your people, no matter what happens today or tomorrow, we your people, we know who we were. We know who we are. We know where we belong. And we know what you’ve called us to do. So, do that work in us. I pray for some who don’t know you that this would be the day of repenting and believing. Please, Lord. Remove any hindrance, we pray. In Jesus name, amen.


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